Columbia residents surveyed 64 percent approve form of government


Sixty-four percent of Columbia residents see no need for radical change now in the way the unincorporated city is governed, but 65 percent would support some changes in the future, according to a survey released yesterday.

The survey of 429 adults was commissioned by a citizens' group that is considering alternatives to the Columbia Association, the structure that governs the 25-year-old city of 75,000. An elected Columbia Council makes policy for the city and appoints the association's president.

"The bottom line is that there seems to be a general level of satisfaction with the Columbia Association and the services provided, however, the base line data showed there is a divided view whether a new form of government is desired in the future," said Columbia lawyer Alan M. Schwartz, who heads the The Governance Initiative Work Group.

The group was appointed last spring by the issue-oriented non-profit organizations Columbia Forum and Columbia Voyage.

Eighty percent of the people surveyed favored a one person-one vote system in all village elections, where residents elect Columbia Council members and representatives to local village boards.

Now, each household has one vote in eight of Columbia's 10 villages.

Fifty-four percent favored an elected chief executive of the Columbia Association, whose president, Padraic M. Kennedy, is now appointed by the council.

Residents surveyed also supported electing a chief executive to the Columbia Association.

Results of the survey by Mason-Dixon Opinion Research, Inc. will be discussed at hearings on options for governing Columbia to begin next month, Mr. Schwartz said.

"Nothing is ruled out or in at this point," he said. The group's findings will be released in October.

"Once this data is discussed publicly, it could influence public opinion on the type of governance decided upon," he said.

The Columbia Association owns and maintains more than 2,000 acres of open space as well as swimming pools, tennis courts, a golf course and other recreational facilities. It also operates a local bus service. The association's operating budget is $29.8 million.

Mr. Kennedy said he was "pleased and not surprised that a great majority of the residents are very satisfied and think the current system is working well."

The survey showed that citizens believe Columbia's developer, the Rouse Co., which turned over control of the Columbia Association to residents in 1982, has the most influence in the city.

Rouse was followed by Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the Columbia Council, Howard County Council, Mr. Kennedy, the Columbia Association staff, Columbia residents and homeowner associations.

Any major change in the governance would require state enabling legislation and approval by Columbia residents in a referendum.

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